what is click spam

What Is Click Spam and How Can You Fight It? A Publisher’s Guide


As an online publisher, you rely on ads to generate revenue and monetize your website. However, click spam has become a common issue in the digital world. It's a form of click fraud that can harm advertisers by wasting their advertising budget and providing inaccurate data on the performance of their ad campaigns. Understanding click spamming is crucial for an online publisher because it can harm your reputation and lead to lost revenue.

In this blog post, we'll explain the different types of click spamming, how they work, and their effects on publishers and advertisers. We'll also discuss ways to detect and prevent click spam from affecting your website. By understanding the basics of click spam, you can protect your website, maintain a healthy relationship with advertisers, and avoid any potential legal repercussions. Let's dive in!

What Is Click Spam? [Definition]

Click spam is a type of click fraud in which fake clicks are generated on an ad to artificially inflate click-through rates (CTR). It's a fraudulent activity that can harm online advertisers by wasting their advertising budget and providing inaccurate data on the performance of their ad campaigns.

Click spamming can be carried out in various ways, such as using bots, scripts, or click farms. These methods are used to generate clicks on ads without any genuine intent to engage with the advertiser.

Examples of click spamming include:

  • Clicking on ads repeatedly to increase the CTR
  • Clicking on ads to waste an advertiser's budget
  • Using bots or click farms to generate fake clicks on ads
  • Using scripts to click on ads automatically

Click spamming is considered fraudulent activity because it deceives advertisers into paying for clicks that have no real value. In addition to wasting advertising budgets, click spamming can also harm the reputation of online publishers by providing inaccurate data on the performance of their ad campaigns. It's important for online publishers to be aware of click spamming and take measures to prevent it from affecting their websites.

Types of Click Spam

Click spamming can take different forms, each with its unique characteristics. In this section, we'll explore three types of click spamming and how they work.

Background Clicks

This type of click spam occurs when a fraudster generates clicks in the background of an app or mobile website without the user's knowledge or interaction. This can be done through hidden frames, invisible buttons, or other deceptive methods. Background clicks can occur in two scenarios:

  • The spammer could generate these fake ad clicks while the user actively engages with the app or mobile web content.
  • A fraudulent app constantly running in the background can generate fake clicks at any time (e.g., battery and memory savers or launcher apps).

The user might not even be aware that an ad is being displayed or clicked on, as it happens behind the scenes.

Impressions-as-clicks

This type of click spam involves recording ad impressions as clicks, even though the user has not interacted with the ad. An impression is counted when an ad is displayed, while a click should only be counted when the user actively engages with the ad. By activating a malicious script on a content property, impressions can be set to automatically trigger clicks on an ad.

Device Clicks

Device click spam occurs when a fraudster sends clicks to tracking vendors from fake Device IDs. These clicks are then attributed to user engagement, even though no one genuinely interacted with the ad. This type of click spam is tough to detect, as the clicks appear to come from legitimate devices and users.

Accidental Clicks

Accidental clicks refer to instances when users unintentionally click on an ad while browsing a website or using an app. While Accidental Clicks are most often not intentional click spam, they can still be harmful as they negatively impact the advertisers and publisher. These clicks are not driven by a genuine interest in the advertised product or service but occur due to various factors, such as:

  1. Ad placement: Ads placed too close to navigational elements, content, or other interactive features can result in accidental clicks. Users may inadvertently click on the ad while intending to interact with another part of the website or app.
  2. Ad format: Certain ad formats, like interstitial ads that cover the entire screen, or ads with small close buttons, can increase the likelihood of accidental clicks. Users may accidentally tap on the ad while trying to close it or navigate away from the page.
  3. Device limitations: On touch-based devices, such as smartphones and tablets, users are more prone to accidental clicks due to the smaller screen size and the use of fingers for navigation.
  4. User behavior: Some users might accidentally click on an ad while scrolling through a page or quickly swiping between screens.

For publishers, a high rate of accidental clicks can lower the quality of user experience on their website or app, potentially affecting user engagement and retention.

How Does Click Spam Work?

Each type of click spamming works differently, but the result is the same: advertisers are misled into paying for clicks that have no real value. Background clicks, impressions-as-clicks, device clicks, and accidental all work by artificially inflating the click-through rates of ads, which can lead to inaccurate data on the performance of the ad campaign.

In the next section, we'll explore the effects of click spamming on advertisers.

The Effects of Click Spamming on Advertisers

Click spamming can have several negative effects on advertisers, including:

Increased costs
As click spamming generates fake or invalid clicks on ads, advertisers end up paying for interactions that do not come from genuine users. This can lead to higher costs without any corresponding increase in conversions or return on investment (ROI).

Skewed performance metrics
Click spamming artificially inflates click-through rates (CTR) and other performance metrics, making it difficult for advertisers to accurately gauge the effectiveness of their campaigns. This can lead to incorrect conclusions about the success of a particular ad or targeting strategy, potentially causing advertisers to make poor decisions about budget allocation and campaign optimization.

Reduced Ad Effectiveness
When ads are displayed to or clicked on by bots or fraudulent users instead of genuine users, the likelihood of generating actual conversions or sales decreases. This can reduce the overall effectiveness of advertising campaigns and diminish the value of advertising as a marketing channel.

Increased Difficulty in Identifying Genuine User Behavior
Click spamming can make it harder for advertisers to understand and target their desired audience. With a mix of fake and genuine user interactions, it becomes more challenging to develop effective targeting strategies, leading to potentially lower engagement and conversion rates.

How Click Spamming Can Harm a Publisher's Reputation

Click spamming can also harm a publisher's reputation. If a publisher's website is found to be generating fake clicks, advertisers may be less willing to work with them. This can lead to a loss of ad revenue and harm the publisher's long-term prospects.

While click spam is usually caused by malicious 3rd party bots and not by the publisher, it is the publisher’s responsibility to ensure that their traffic is clean and click spam is removed from the website. Snigel’s AdOps experts use bot detection, blocking, and ad setup best practices to help publishers minimize click spam. Contact us here to learn more.

The next section will explore ways to detect and prevent click spamming.

How Can You Identify, Prevent And Stop Click Spam?

Click spamming can be a difficult problem to solve, but there are measures that online publishers can take to detect and prevent it from affecting their websites. In this section, we'll explore some of the ways to detect and stop click spamming.

Understand Your Traffic and Conversions Through Analytics

Familiarize yourself with your Google Analytics. Examine your traffic reports by dividing them into meaningful segments using URL channels, user devices, and user GEOs. This will enable you to locate the source of unusual changes in your traffic.

Gather detailed information about your site visitors and monitor any suspicious user behavior. To better understand your traffic, ask questions like, "Where are my users located, both geographically?" and "Which pages do they visit on my site?"

Click spammers interact with ads differently than real users do. For example, high amounts of traffic in a short time or unusual user journeys can indicate fraudulent activity.

If you have a solid understanding of your regular traffic and visitors, you will be able to recognize patterns and detect when suspicious activity is occurring. Examine your analytics to identify and isolate suspicious sources, such as specific mobile apps or websites, and remove any sources of bad traffic by blocking IP addresses.

Low-Quality Partners

Some publishers have encountered invalid traffic issues when collaborating with low-quality ad networks, search engines, or directory sites to boost their website traffic. Make sure to educate yourself about traffic purchasing. You can consult Google’s traffic provider checklist for guidance when considering potential partners.

Clicking On Your Own Advertisements

Clicking on your own ads, even out of curiosity or to find the destination URL, is strictly prohibited by Google and can be flagged as click spam. Remember that although clicks on your ads may be filtered, they are not completely ignored. If a publisher appears to be clicking on their ads to increase their earnings or inflate advertiser costs, their account may be disabled to protect advertisers.

App Validation

App validation is another way to detect click spamming. Advertising networks and exchanges usually review apps to ensure their code is not malicious. Advertisers should avoid apps that are not validated since bad code is more likely to go undetected.

How Does Google Detect Click Spam?

Google has multiple systems in place to check for invalid traffic and click spamming on ads. Here are some of the main ways they do it:

  1. Automated Filters: Google uses automated filters to detect invalid traffic and click spamming on ads. These filters analyze patterns and behaviors of clicks and impressions and use machine learning to identify fraudulent activity.
  2. Manual Review: Google also has a team of human reviewers who manually review suspicious traffic and clicks. They use a combination of automated tools and their own expertise to identify and investigate potentially fraudulent activity.
  3. IP and Device Analysis: Google checks the IP address and device information of the user who clicked on an ad to verify whether the click is coming from a legitimate user or from a bot.
  4. User Behavior Analysis: Google also analyzes user behavior on the website where the ad was clicked to determine if the click was genuine or if the user was engaging in click spamming.
  5. Invalid Traffic Reports: Google encourages advertisers to report any suspicious activity they observe on their ads, which helps Google identify and investigate invalid traffic and click spamming.

Overall, Google uses a combination of automated tools, manual reviews, and data analysis to detect and prevent invalid traffic and click spamming on ads.

How to be Proactive in Fighting Click Fraud

To prevent click spamming and other types of click fraud from affecting your website, being proactive in fighting it is essential. While the measures discussed earlier can identify click spamming once it happens, investing in anti-fraud solutions is a more proactive approach. Snigel's AdEngine, our market-leading header bidding solution for publishers, offers comprehensive traffic and click analysis to detect and block fraudulent activity before it happens. By using traffic filtering algorithms, AdEngine helps validate the clicks and traffic you receive, reducing the risk of click fraud and improving your website's overall performance.

Conclusion

It is essential for online publishers to be proactive in detecting and preventing click spamming to protect their website, maintain a healthy relationship with advertisers, and avoid any potential legal repercussions. By analyzing traffic and conversions, validating apps, investing in anti-fraud solutions, and being proactive in fighting click fraud, publishers can protect themselves against click spamming.

At Snigel, we offer a range of monetization solutions to help online publishers build a unique monetization strategy based on their needs. Our experts can help publishers stay ahead of the constantly changing ad tech landscape and maximize their revenue potential while adhering to the latest SEO, user experience, and page speed best practices. Contact us today to learn more about our services.

Together, we can combat click spamming and ensure a healthy and profitable digital advertising ecosystem.

About the Author

Ira is Snigel's Head Of Marketing. She supports our team and publishers by creating awesome guides on the latest adtech trends. Ira's background is in software development, communications, and media.

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